Challenge for change 06 November 2012

`In her keynote to the IRTE conference 2012, senior traffic commissioner Beverley Bell challenged the transport industry to sort out its standards and shake off its image. Brian Tinham reports

"We need to raise standards right across the transport industry – all the way from maintenance technicians to drivers and the operators' transport managers. Commercial vehicle operations – both haulage and bus and coach – have a poor public image right now, and it is way past time to clean up this industry's act."

So said Beverley Bell, senior traffic commissioner for the land, in her keynote address to delegates at the IRTE Conference 2012, held at the Heritage Motor Centre, Gaydon, in September. Her view matters. The industry knows that, if there are aspects of transport that concern Mrs Bell, then every operator, every transport manager, every fleet engineer and every driver ought to be worrying about them too.

Starting with the men and women behind commercial vehicle wheels, she made the point that Driver CPC (Certificate of Professional Competence) qualification is mandatory, and that time is running out. It's important, she said, not only in terms of raising driving standards, but also ensuring that drivers understand their responsibilities when it comes to their daily walk around checks and defect reporting.

"Make sure your drivers are up-to-date on their Driver CPC training," she urged. "The breadth of ignorance is breathtaking: they are a really important part of your maintenance systems."

Moving on to workshop maintenance and vehicle inspection, Mrs Bell railed against the current situation that allows individuals without relevant qualifications to start businesses and sign off commercial vehicles as fit for purpose. "At the moment, anyone can set up their own maintenance operation, and this is not what we, as an industry, want," she asserted.

But equally, even some main agents' standards of vehicle preparation are not as high as they should be, she added. "That's because maintenance contractors aren't being called to account... It's their customers, the operators, who find themselves called into my office."

For the senior traffic commissioner, this should not be about government imposing regulation – the authorities want to legislate with a light touch, she insisted. What Mrs Bell wants to see is essentially independent verification of the industry by the industry. "The IRTE's workshop accreditation scheme is a very good starting point," she said. "But other organisations – such as SMMT [Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders], FTA [Freight Transport Association], RHA [Road Haulage Association] and CILT [Chartered Institute of Logistics and Transport] – should have a part to play, too, in setting and administering standards for maintenance contractors."

That said, she urged the transport industry to work towards a unified standard, not the current mix of approaches found, for example, in the dealership networks. "Volvo, Mercedes-Benz, Scania and the others all have their own maintenance standards, but my challenge to you all is to find one single, industry standard. The IRTE has been very vocal in this area, and we need a 'one size fits all' accreditation. VOSA and my department will support you in this endeavour. When it's operational VOSA can target those that fall below the standard ... and I will see the wrongdoers at public inquiries."

Turning her attention finally to transport managers, Mrs Bell condemned the "shocking" pay and deference too often afforded to professionals occupying what she sees as a pivotal position. This is another major part of the problem leading to inadequate standards, she said. "To my colleagues and I, the transport manager's role is key. They are directly responsible for operators staying within the terms of their 'O' licences," she reminded delegates. "So these are important people and they are not getting enough prominence."

Her advice: operators should examine the statutory guidance available online from transport associations, as well as VOSA and the traffic commissioners' office. Similarly, transport managers must check that they have the requisite authority and are able to discharge their responsibilities fully.

"Do it now," she requested"There's a problem of complacency around compliance and it's time to change that, if we're to shake up this industry's image. You need to support accreditation and raise professional standards. And you need to take more action at the local level. OCRS [Operator Compliance Risk Score] is not everything: look at your MOT history; talk to your maintenance agent or contractor; check that they are preparing your vehicles well and on time; and look at your prohibitions.

"We will work with you but we expect you to help yourselves."

Brian Tinham

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